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Uncertain Power: The Struggle for a National Energy Policy

Uncertain Power: The Struggle for a National Energy Policy

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Uncertain Power: The Struggle for a National Energy Policy

569 pages
7 hours
Oct 22, 2013


Uncertain Power: The Struggle for a National Energy Policy discusses several issues pertaining to the energy situation in the U.S., such as the public, the government, and the risks.
The opening chapter discusses a delicate balance among the public, experts, and government. Chapter 2 tackles the failure of consensus on energy, and Chapter 3 deals with energy policy and democratic theory. The fourth chapter reviews the neglect of social risk assessment; the fifth chapter discusses valuing of human life. Chapter 6 tackles the media coverage of complex technological issues, and Chapter 7 covers the governance of nuclear power. The eighth chapter covers the national energy policy from state and local perspectives, while the ninth chapter reviews selling saved energy, considered as a new role for the utilities. Chapter 10 discusses energy and security, and Chapter 11 tackles history as a guide to the future. The last chapter covers the political geology of the energy problems.
Readers who concern themselves regarding several factors that affect energy source, supply, and distribution along with its socio-economic implication will find this book a great source of insight regarding the issue.
Oct 22, 2013

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Uncertain Power - Elsevier Science



Spawned in 1973 in the aftermath of the first Arab oil embargo, energy studies proliferated during the 1970s. By 1980 they had shaped a significant public policy literature. For the most part, the studies addressed problems of supply, usually of oil and natural gas; the technology of producing energy from solar and nuclear sources, and synthetic fuels; and above all, the economics of these resources. As predictions failed and ambitious projects foundered, the limitations of some of these studies became apparent. The price of oil, which quadrupled in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, was not expected to rise again significantly by 1980.¹ The fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 demolished such optimistic predictions as prices almost tripled, making the second oil shock even more debilitating than the first.² Nuclear power plants, expected to provide some 40 percent of United States’ electricity in the 1980s, were by 1982 contributing less than 12 percent, and there was no likelihood that earlier goals could be achieved. The production of oil by oil-shale extraction, which by some estimates was to have provided 5 million barrels of oil per day by 1984, is languishing on the brink of extinction; while the boom towns hastily created in anticipation of a vigorous, new industry, are already beginning to resemble the deserted silver-mining towns of the nineteenth century. The classical tools of economic analysis and forecasting had proven inadequate.

Many of the early studies paid scant attention to what have rapidly come to be recognized as crucial factors in national and international energy policy planning, namely, the social, psychological, and political dimensions of energy problems. Conversely, the relatively few studies written by social scientists (after a flurry of interest in the peaceful uses of the atom had paled) usually ignored technological innovations and economics. When social scientists did address technology or economics, their work was most often published in journals read only by other social scientists. For example, the article, Sociologists Should Reconsider Nuclear Energy, a plea for cogent analyses of the social costs and benefits of alternative energy futures, soundly based in sociological theory, was published in Social Forces, a publication not likely to be read by specialists in the Department of Energy, or the Atomic Industrial Forum (AIF), or even by nonsocial scientists in universities.³ Other studies such as A Time to Choose, which did examine several social issues, appeared in 1974 before the social aspects of the energy problem had gained national prominence. Consequently, it failed to attract the public’s attention.⁴

Rapid growth in the antinuclear movement beginning in the 1970s further illuminated the social-political dimensions of energy problems and made clear the need for a new brand of professional—one who could analyze the social, psychological, and political aspects of energy problems, but with due reference to the technologies involved. The new problems demanded experts who could assess metal stress in aging nuclear power plants while also considering the significance of mental stress among residents of Three Mile Island (TMI) following the accident.⁵,⁶ This new breed of analyst has evolved over the past decade, in part from recycled, traditionally trained physical and social scientists, in part from the first-generation graduates of university energy programs, and to a lesser extent from the rare and valuable autodidacts.

Three interdisciplinary research programs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government have abetted the development of these specialists during recent years. For a decade the Center for Science and International Affairs, whose major concern is arms control and international security problems, has been studying the links between energy security (as an aspects of national and international security) and nuclear proliferation as they relate to issues of civilian nuclear power, waste disposal, nuclear weapons, and terrorism.⁷ More recently, the Energy and Environmental Policy Center has carried out research on allocation, development, regulation, and conservation of energy and environmental resources. The Program for Science, Technology and Public Policy for more than 15 years has been training students in the policy aspects of science and technology-related problems. The director of this program chaired the most comprehensive U.S. energy study group to date, the Committee on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Systems (CONAES), whose report was published in 1979.⁸ By bringing together social and physical scientists, CONAES made a significant contribution to the development of a new network of specialists addressing energy issues. The rapidly changing scene in energy policy, which called for greater multidisciplinary efforts, suggested that the CONAES approach should be adopted and broadened. Drawing on both the CONAES and the Kennedy School’s networks of energy policy experts, the Kennedy School held a workshop in May 1981. The participants were:

Alvin L. Alm,     Director, Harvard Energy Security Program, Kennedy School of Government

Prof. Ian Barbour,     Director, Program in Science, Ethics and Public Policy, Carleton College

James Bishop,     documentary producer, President, Bishop Associates

Prof. Kenneth Boulding,     Director of the Program of Research on General Social and Economic Dynamics, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado

Prof. Harvey Brooks,     Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy, Harvard University

Dr. Benjamin S. Cooper,     Professional Staff Member, Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

Prof. Paul Doty,     Director, Center for Science and International Affairs Kennedy School of Government

Prof. Roger Kasperson,     Director, Center for Technology, Environment and Development, Clark University

Prof. Sanford Lakoff,     Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, Fellow, National Humanities Center

Dr. Rodney Lay,     Department Head, Renewable and Advanced Energy Systems, The MITRE Corporation

Dr. Douglas MacLean,     Research Associate, Center for Philosophy and Public Policy, University of Maryland

Alan McGowan,     President, Scientists’ Institute for Public Information

Prof. Allan Mazur,     Professor of Sociology, Syracuse University

Prof. Linda B. Miller,     Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College

Prof. Laura Nader,     Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley

Dorothy Powers,     Chairperson, League of Women Voters Education Fund

Michael Rice,     Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies

Richard Sclove,     Research Associate, Center for International Studies, M.I.T.

Prof. Frank Von Hippel,     Princeton University

Margaret Bush Wilson,     National Chairperson—NAACP; Attorney at Law

Daniel Yankelovich,     Chairman, Yankelovich, Skelly & White, Inc. President, Public Agenda Foundation

Dr. Daniel Yergin,     Adjunct Lecturer, Kennedy School of Government

Dr. Dorothy S. Zinberg,     Director of Seminars and Special Projects, CSIA, Lecturer on Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government

Charles Zraket,     Executive Vice President, MITRE Corporation

The workshop was originally convened to discuss energy and social adaptation. The title of the book that has resulted, Uncertain Power: The Struggle For A National Energy Policy, reflects the change of emphasis that evolved largely from intense discussions during the workshop. Despite the agenda the group found itself returning repeatedly to the subjects of political process, public opinion and participation, the subtle issue of consensus, and the, as yet, unresolved problems of energy supply and national security.

Because of the significance of the United States in world affairs, its own national security and even its energy consumption are major international concerns. That decisions regarding these issues can no longer be made in isolation has been recognized for many years. Pollution, resource depletion, conservation efforts, food production, and population growth are all globally, inextricably linked. These long-range problems and challenges reveal the necessity for new forms of international cooperation, and in turn, presage the need for new perspectives, values, and behavior. The group concluded that gaining further clarification of certain national problems before embarking on the international implications would provide a more solid base from which to conduct future research and policy studies.

More important, on rereading the papers and subsequent commentaries on the workshop it became evident that social adaptation was no longer a suitable rubric for what the workshop had brought into prominence. The stalemates that we had repeatedly confronted in energy policy making were not of adaptation, but of a continuing struggle in the political and public arenas as witnessed by the inequities in the distribution of burdens borne by different groups in society, the need for political action, the importance of coalition building, and, perhaps, the linchpin—the role of the public. Thus the title and concern of this volume: the struggle for a national energy policy. To place these new topics in context we have had several

additional papers written on federal, state, and local interactions, and also on conservation. We hope that the resulting collection will provide a broader framework within which to integrate social, economic, political, and technical variables so that their interdependence will become obvious to all who strive to create workable national energy policies.


I wish to thank the many colleagues and friends who have read, and in several instances reread, different chapters in this book. During the successive stages of the book’s preparation from workshop drafts to final essays, I have benefited from correspondence, conversation, and, often, heated discussions with Professors Ian Barbour, Harvey Brooks, Albert Carnesale, Paul Doty, William Hogan, Sanford Lakoff, Laura Nader, and Norman Zinberg. As the book’s chapters will reveal once more, consensus is not easily achieved on energy issues.

The hallmarks of several energy problems changed drastically during the period the book was being written. For example, the cost of oil decreased as did the number of barrels imported daily into the United States; nuclear power plant cancellations increased; the American public’s concerns shifted from energy to the economy; and the synthetic fuel program suffered innumerable vicissitudes. Accordingly, the work of several research assistants was crucial for up-dating of the data through 1982. At an early stage, Fredie Kaye helped plan the format and substance of the workshop, while Andrea Larson prepared the background material for the workshop and carried out the research for the section on the history of public participation. Later, David Kissinger ferreted out the sources of obscure references and compiled additional bibliographies, and Christopher Gates searched the final drafts for anachronisms and inaccuracies.

The administrative and organizational underpinnings of the workshop were ably provided by Daryl Battin while the arduous task of transliterating the papers to a newly installed and often dysfunctional word processor was carried out very professionally by Diane Asay. Woodward Wickham’s unique editorial skills provided all of us with new insights into the possibilities for translating ‘energese’ into English. The lapses, which I hope are few, result from our intractability, not his lack of guidance.

Not insignificant in the book’s becoming a reality was the contribution made by many of my colleagues at the Center for Science and International Affairs who stepped in and performed the chores that were ordinarily mine during the time the conference and book were in process. They have set a model for collaboration upon which it would be hard to improve.

The MITRE Corporation and the Rockefeller Family Foundation generously contributed funds for the project, while the Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government provided space, staff time, and its most highly coveted privilege, access to the new word processor. I am most appreciative for all of their support—financial, institutional, and collegial.


¹See Limits to Models in Robert Stobaugh and Daniel Yergin, eds., Energy Future: Report of the Energy Project at the Harvard Business School (New York: Random House, 1979), p.245.

²For a discussion of the impact of the oil price increases see Robert Dohner, The Bedeviled American Economy in Global Insecurity: A Strategy for Energy and Economic Renewal, ed. Daniel Yergin and Martin Hillebrand (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1982).

³Sociologists should reconsider Otis Dudley Duncan, Nuclear Energy, Social Forces, 57 (Sept. 1978):1.

⁴Energy Policy Project of the Ford Foundation, A Time to Choose (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1974).

⁵See interview with Sir Alan Cottrell, PWRs Unlikely To Be Safe, Says Metallurgist, Nature, 283 (Feb. 1980).

⁶On mental stress, see Mental Stress Given Environmental Status, Nature, 295, (21 Jan. 1982); Psychological Stress: New Factor in TMI-1 Restart, Nuclear Industry, 29 (Feb. 1982).

⁷Frederick Williams and David Deese, Nuclear Proliferation (New York: Pergamon Press, 1979); David Deese and Joseph Nye, eds., Energy and Security (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1981); Derek Leebaert, ed. European Security in the 1980s (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1979); Michael Mandelbaum, The Nuclear Question: The United States and Nuclear Weapons: 1946–1976 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).

⁸CONAES Report, Supporting Paper 7, Energy Choices in a Democratic Society (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1980).


Dorothy S. Zinberg


In the past decade, policy planning has rapidly become both the subject and object of political, technical, and social debate. American presidents and politicians are elected, in part, because they appear to be responding to the country’s wish to be guided by rational policies for health, social welfare, education, employment, local-state-and-federal balance of power, economic growth, foreign affairs, and national defense. They have proposed ambitious plans only to be stymied by the vastness of the problems and, more significantly, by the lack of sustained consensus in the country as to the relative weight each policy should receive. As Lester Thurow illuminated even in the title of his provocative book, The Zero Sum Society, the size of the economic pie isn’t changing, only the size of the portions. For each decision on defense spending, social benefits, and taxation, there are winners and losers; redistribution, not net gains, results. In a Utopian society a comprehensive public policy would contribute to improving the lot of every citizen. In the real world, particularly one in which economic growth has slowed and unemployment soared, each decision is at the expense of a competing interest. Accordingly, at every organizational and institutional level of society and in every nook and cranny of the country, groups coalesce around a shared interest to protect themselves from becoming one of the losers in this redistribution of influence, power, and money.

A quick look at the political fate of recent presidents (none has been elected for two terms) and the disappearance from the Congress of familiar figures once considered permanent fixtures suggests that the public’s disappointment in the failure of leaders to carry out acceptable national policies has made incumbency a potential impediment to reelection. As pressure grows for more rational, comprehensive planning, the many diverse, conflicting interests of this heterogeneous, pluralistic, decentralized, fiercely competitive society crash noisily into each other, and the promised policy implementation is shattered. Only partial policies can then be enacted. The public, consequently, becomes increasingly disaffected and cynical, and responds by voting for a change, or as is often the case, passively, by not voting. Successive governments also respond by creating or expunging departments, boosting or slashing budgets, and emphasizing what they perceive to be their mandate from the public.

Stalemates result and paradoxes abound. For example, the American public has stated firmly that the federal government is bloated and too powerful. Both Presidents Carter and Reagan came into office committed to carrying out the public’s wish to cut federal spending programs. Nevertheless, the public has continued to want the federal government to be the employer of last resort; 74 percent of them believe that we should have a federal program to create jobs for the unemployed, even if the result increases the budget deficit.¹

All of these contradictions in the struggle among competing interests and goals have crystalized in the struggle to develop a national energy policy. As the authors of Uncertain Power make clear, the struggle is a reflection not just of the problems of energy, but of many other tensions and issues in American society.

As we noted in the preface, the very notion of an energy policy is relatively new—a product of a growing awareness of the links between the economy and energy and the sharp rise in oil prices which began with the 1973 Arab oil embargo. As the interrelatedness of energy resources became more apparent and efforts to arrive at balances among oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, renewables, and conservation began to emerge, the search for an energy policy began in earnest. The National Academy of Sciences spent the largest sum of money in its history to design a proposal for a national energy policy;² policy studies began to appear and, like the struggle itself, covered a spectrum of views many of which were less part of a spectrum than mutually exclusive propositions.

Whereas the need for energy policy crystalized the problems besetting the country as well as the difficulties of designing and implementing policy, nuclear energy policy provided an even sharper focus. It quickly became the single lens through which much of the overall energy debate was refracted. Nuclear power is unique and some would argue that as a consequence nuclear-related policy cannot serve as a model for decision making or as an illumination of policy formulation in general. Yet as the authors of Uncertain Power explain, the questions that penetrate to the core of democratic process (questions about equity, the distribution of risk, and representative government) are embodied in nuclear-related issues.

Since World War II the spectacular growth of high technology with its attendant benefits and risks has pushed technology into the spotlight of public admiration tempered by concern. Each time a satellite fails and threatens to disintegrate on some undetermined part of the earth’s surface or an airplane disaster creates a tragedy of unprecedented dimensions, the gains these technologies have brought are questioned by the public. Though committed to new advances in high technology, particularly in medicine, agriculture, and industry, they nevertheless retain serious reservations about how the quality of life is being adversely affected by technologies that threaten to outstrip our capacity to control them.

Nuclear power continues to be enthusiastically endorsed for the long-term energy needs of the world by the majority of scientific and engineering elites.³ The general public is less certain. Because the near-term economics remain unfavorable for the industry, there is less publicity about the public’s attitudes. However, recent revelations of fraud in the industry (the steel used in construction of many light-water reactors is defective) combined with the underlying fear about the relationship of radiation to cancer (now being tested in several class action suits filed by 1950s veterans of above-ground weapons testing in southwestern U.S. deserts and by nuclear weapons production personnel at Rocky Flats, Colorado) and the residual anxiety from the Three Mile Island accident have deprived nuclear power of majority public support.⁴ The percentage favoring the further development of nuclear power, as opposed to those who think it is too dangerous, has dropped from 50 percent in 1979 to 41 percent in 1982.

These concerns pale in comparison with growing public anxiety about the upward spiral of the arms race. Despite years of effort by industry and government to separate civilian and military nuclear power in the mind of the public, the 1981 U.S. government announcement that it was contemplating the use of commercial reactor fuel for the new generation of nuclear warheads destroyed the credibility of earlier assurances.⁵,⁶

Policy for national security is inextricably linked to nuclear weapons which in turn are linked to the generation of nuclear fuel at home and the proliferation of power plants around the world. A wary, pro-civil-nuclear power physicist has written that nuclear power’s weapons connection does not manifestly render its use intolerable but rather that:

a realistic appraisal of the weapons liability must be included—along with the best information about the other costs and benefits of nuclear power and of the alternatives—in any sensible evaluation of energy strategies.

In the short space of a decade, the United States has striven to develop a comprehensive energy policy to subsume all of the concerns identified above. The authors of Uncertain Power contend that the aim of achieving such comprehensiveness was misguided and unrealistic. Because the issues are ultimately political and the country so diverse, a more realistic approach is to explore the assumptions and the values underlying policy planning and choices. The aim should be to develop incremental, flexible policies that reflect the realities of resource availability, the potential for technological development, and, above all, the political will of the public.

The research agenda is full. An evaluation of energy decision making in the 1970s concludes that:

Perhaps the most striking conclusion from this review is that so little systematic research is available on the topic of energy decision making in the American political system. Despite frequently repeated condemnations of pre-embargo government organization and policy, most reports and book-length studies proceed to offer recommendations without having analyzed the existing decision-making apparatus or its product.

Accordingly, there is still much to be learned about how policy is made, how it is implemented, and how it can be evaluated.

The authors of Uncertain Power believe that the emphasis on the economics and technology camouflaged the major issues of the role of social values and different goals among those who influence the political process. As we noted in the introduction, the problems call for a new cadre of experts conversant in many languages and skills who can begin to create and evaluate policy.

The issues vary in complexity. A number of papers in the book will be readily understood by neophytes in energy policy. Others such as those on risk are more difficult to grasp, but, because they are integral to an understanding of the trade-offs, compromise, and ethical demands involved in virtually all policy making, are worth the struggle.

The energy crisis has receded for the moment, but we believe that what we can learn from trying to resolve energy problems is applicable to resolving other policy problems. Not unimportantly, continuing to struggle for more understanding of energy issues themselves will provide insurance that will pay substantial dividends in the not-too-distant future.

It is not surprising, however, that the American public has gratefully accepted the latest news that the energy crisis is over. For nearly a decade the imminence of an energy catastrophe was made vivid by gasoline lines, escalating prices, and supply interruptions. Just when we as a country were beginning to believe the energy crisis real (in 1980, 70 percent according to one poll called energy one of the two most important concerns facing the country), optimists began to proclaim the good news.⁹ Articles in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal heralded a more relaxed era, while a Harper’s cover boomed, The Energy Crisis Is Over!¹⁰ That the once-fearsome OPEC was now choking on its self-produced oil glut and would soon expire, a victim of its own greed, compounded the pleasure these announcements gave us.¹¹ Those who believed that the energy crisis was a myth supported by a propaganda war of startling dimensions appeared to be exonerated.¹² Usually skeptical Americans accepted the good news with relief; there were other problems—inflation, unemployment, and, for some, national security—of more immediate concern.

The authors of Uncertain Power contend that the country is being seriously misled if it believes that the energy problem, in the words of one writer in the New York Times, has joined global famine, the limits of growth, and the population bomb as ideas whose inevitability has mercifully passed.¹³ We attempt to demonstrate that energy is an integral aspect of the many problems facing society. The economic and national security concerns now crowding energy off center stage, while not a result solely of energy problems, require that concerted energy plans be formulated. The market has failed to solve the many dimensions of the energy problem because it cannot accommodate national security needs and more subtle ethical problems with the responsibilities of this generation to future generations. Nor can it balance profits with equity, health risks, and threats to the environment. Long-term guidance is needed if the country is to produce and deliver, in an equitable fashion, resources adequate to meet national needs and to satisfy international responsibilities that the United States has assumed under an agreement with the International Energy Agency, to share oil in times of emergency with its allies. Without appropriate planning, the news that the predicted crises of famine, no-growth, and overpopulation are past is, as Mark Twain remarked on reading his obituary, greatly exaggerated.

The United States’ de facto policies or decisions have international repercussions, whether they be the amount of oil to import, the price of natural gas, the amount of coal to mine, or under what conditions nuclear fuels can be exported. As the authors of Uncertain Power have written here and elsewhere, energy problems do not exist in isolation. Environmental hazards—acid rain that results from the burning of fossil fuels, or fallout from a nuclear power plant accident, or carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere that can lead to warming the earth’s surface—do not recognize geographical boundaries and often create political hazards. Rising temperatures threaten the agricultural productivity of those parts of the globe that currently provide food for less-arable areas. Acid-rain production has already led to friction between traditional allies, Canada and the United States, as well as between Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries. Denmark and Austria, both without active commercial nuclear power plants, worry about the impact of nuclear accidents and wind-borne radioactivity issuing from plants in Sweden and Germany.

The alliance between the United States and its West European allies was severely tested in 1982 because of an energy project that was singled out by President Reagan to express his disapproval of the Soviets’ behavior in Poland. The USSR had begun work on a 3700-mile natural gas pipeline, which, when finished, will provide Western Europe with approximately 2.5 percent of its total energy supply. In late 1981 the Reagan administration, reversing a promise made earlier to the NATO allies, ordered an export ban on equipment, manufactured in Europe under American licenses, that was needed for construction in the USSR. Claiming that the pipeline would provide the Soviets with hard currency with which to increase their military spending and, in addition, would make the European countries politically vulnerable to supply cut-offs, the Reagan administration threatened draconian measures against the first American company to disregard the embargo. That the United States continued to sell grain to the Soviets made the American rhetoric and action appear hypocritical in the extreme to its allies, who needed not only the natural gas from the pipeline, but also the thousands of additional jobs the construction would provide. The United States’ stance also seemed short-sighted to its many critics at home. On November 13, 1982, President Reagan, under heavy pressure from critics at home and abroad, lifted the sanctions he had previously imposed. The natural gas pipeline project vividly illustrates the intertwining of domestic and foreign policy, the lack of consensus within the United States, and the political-economic tensions between the United States and its allies. A policy made to satisfy ideological commitments at home creates new energy-supply and political problems abroad, threatens traditional alliances, and deepens the rift between the United States and the Soviet Union.

These problems cannot be resolved without international collaboration. Nevertheless, in order for the United States to work effectively on these and other related problems, it must have its own house in order. To do so entails establishing some greater measure of consensus than exists at present. For this reason, the authors of Uncertain Power are focusing on the internal tensions and struggles that have impeded the development of a national consensus. This lack of agreement has prevented the country from adopting a set of of rational, flexible energy policies. In this book, the authors examine a number of the gains, losses, and missed opportunities that mark energy-policy struggles of the past decade. A few of the more adventurous contributors offer, somewhat tentatively, guidelines for the possible resolution of energy problems and, even more tentatively, hope for the future.

The book is divided into four parts:

I Energy and the Public

II Energy and The Evaluation of Risk

III Energy and Government

IV Toward A Solution

The reader will note, however, that the book, like the energy issue itself, resists precise, analytically distinct categorization. A number of themes arise in many of the chapters: the dilemma of whether consensus can or should be achieved; the unique symbolic significance of nuclear power; the impingement of nontechnical factors on technology-related decisions; the tension among federal, state, and local governments; the growing significance of public opinion polls; the surge in public participation, particularly in special interest groups; and the public’s expectation that it has the right, if not the duty, to shape and implement energy policy decisions. The authors examine these issues from a shared assumption of the importance of strengthening democratic values and the political process. The discovery that this group (homogeneous when compared with the general public) has such widely divergent views on so many of the issues, including what constitutes democratic practices, should not discourage the reader who seeks synthesis. Rather, we hope that the diversity itself will provide a deeper understanding of the interlocking complexities of the issues of equity, national security, productivity, and the preservation of democracy as they relate to energy and the environment.


As the media and the federal government, by its inaction, have pronounced, the energy crisis is over. The Cassandras, who for a decade captured the public’s attention with warnings about the likelihood of escalating oil prices and supply interruptions, have begun to fade from public view. Like aging movie stars, they have been relegated to minor roles on TV (the major source of the public’s information), while their publications have been overshadowed by others mirroring the current national concern, the threat of nuclear war. Even Israel’s invasion of Lebanon evoked relatively little comment about the likelihood of triggering an oil-supply cutoff in a conflict-torn Middle East. And the problems of nuclear power, though still reported in the media, have lost some of their steam since Three Mile Island in 1979.

The public’s concern about energy has plummeted from 70 percent in 1980 to 3 percent in the fall of 1982 and most polls no longer include questions about energy. How can any problem so complex and onerous have been resolved so quickly? The answer in the opinion of our authors is that it has not; only the diagnosis has changed.

A crisis, real or psychological, cannot by definition be maintained indefinitely. It is a critical situation or a decisive state of affairs that has to be resolved imminently. If not, the response changes. In a visible crisis, such as war, the resources of a country are organized against an outside enemy. When President Carter announced that the energy crisis was the moral equivalent of war, he was attempting to mobilize the public as it had been mobilized in World War II. He failed because he did not follow through with concerted action, and the public inferred that the energy crisis had been fabricated by those who stood to benefit from it. A crisis mentality serves neither an individual nor a country well. When, for example, individuals are faced with a protracted crisis that promises no resolution, the anxiety that, in part, provides the energy to deal with the crisis can turn into depression—an overwhelming sense of hopelessness or helplessness. If sufficiently severe, these feelings, in turn, give rise to fears of an impending catastrophe about which the individual can do nothing. The response is apathy. For others, the mechanism is different. They respond by isolating themselves from the anxiety and deem the crisis inconsequential or meaningless. Depression and apathy, in one instance, and denial and isolation, in the other, interfere with the ability to effect rational and constructive planning. Although the body politic functions neither as an individual nor as the sum of individual psychological dispositions, there are similarities—the initial national anxiety and depression following the first Arab oil embargo (1973), for example, and the current sense of indifference and isolation from the problem beginning after oil prices declined (1981). The energy crisis mentality could not be maintained for a decade. The country had not been drawn into an all-out war, and, fortunately, the feared demise of democracy as predicted by staunchly pro- and antinuclear energy groups had not materialized.

In addition, conservation and efficiency practices began to show results, and oil consumption dropped by 8.5 percent between 1978 and 1981. Oil prices decreased, in part, because of a persistent world-wide economic recession, which had been brought on in some degree by the cost of energy resources. OPEC appeared to have lost its fangs, and concerns began to shift to the international repercussions that would occur if oil-producing nations, such as Mexico and Nigeria, could not rely on revenues to pay their debts. As economists predicted, the high price of oil had indeed generated the momentum to develop once-uneconomic oil resources, natural gas, and coal reserves.

The authors of Uncertain Power believe that as the oil glut did not signal the end of the energy crisis, neither did the recent declaration of an energy victory end the need for further examination of energy problems. Obviously, we think there is a need for further analysis and discussion, because the gains of the decade (conservation and efficiency) are only partial solutions, because other gains are likely to be transitory (lower oil prices), and because the major threats of war and the erosion of democracy are still with us and looming larger. Energy supplies and prices play a major role in maintaining relations among allies and in changing the likelihood of war, while at home they directly affect the social stability of the country.

It may be (as the former Secretary of Energy, James Schlesinger, warned) that the energy crisis is past until the next crisis occurs. The public is justifiably skeptical about the yo-yo behavior of government and industry. From the declaration of the moral equivalent of war (1977) to the apathy and isolation born of the failure to resolve the crisis on a long-run basis, the United States has lost valuable time in solving a long-term

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